Ben Stein, eat your heart out. Even you cannot top this tale of life on the road, taking a breath of fresh midair.
Coming off a lecture in New York City and heading back to Miami, I did a brief commuter leg from LaGuardia to Philly before connecting to my Florida flight. The young lady seated next to me was pleasant from the outset and I was happy to be spared from one of those tense rides alongside someone with a hostile aura. She mentioned early that she traveled frequently on business because she was a specialty seamstress whose customers liked to be fitted personally.
"What kind of clothes," I asked.
"Outfits for triplets," came the response.
"Wow," I said. "That sounds like such a clever niche idea. There have to be quite a few people around the country in that position, hard to find just the right look in multiple versions."
"Oh, yes. Very often if I get it just right, the way they want it, they'll order one in green and one in pink and one in purple, that kind of thing."
"Amazing. Seems to me I should know at least one person who could benefit from that but for the life of me I can't remember who just now. It will come back to me. So, why don't you sell them in stores?"
"Nah. The stores hassle you to make a lot at a time and then they'll pay you a fraction for wholesale of what I can get by retail. And as for the specialty orders, you would not believe how many stores have in-house seamstresses who are ready to fill those orders. But I make a nice living this way, flying around, meeting my customers face to face, fitting them just right. People appreciate that, tell their friends."
"Is that what you always wanted to do? Is sewing something that brings out your creativity?"
"Well, yeah, I'm plenty creative and it is definitely a talent. You understand they like colors which stand out and shiny material, there's a lot that goes into it. I work hard to get it just right, and I think I do a good job, but that is not what I started out doing. I was trained as a singer but somehow I have not yet managed to turn that into a full career."
"Darn, why can't I remember which friend of mine is in that position. What is your name by the way?"
"M-I-K-A? Like Mika Brzezinski?"
"Who is that?"
"Oh, she was a newswoman on CBS, worked with Dan Rather back in the day. Now she is a sidekick to Joe Scarborough on a cable show about politics called Morning Joe. Her father is Zbigniew Brzezinski who used to be National Security Adviser under President Carter."
"Really? I never heard of her. I thought I was the only one with that name."
"How has the recession affected your work?"
"It is definitely a problem, because people are tight with money, so I don't make what I used to a couple of years ago. Still, I make a nice living, enough so it is worth it for me to do all this flying."
"Have you considered the idea of selling over the web? That way you don't need to keep any inventory on hand and just make everything in response to orders, at least until you build up a high volume of orders."
"Yes, at one point I was thinking seriously of doing that. In fact I went out and bought the domain for my business name. Then I thought it over and decided I did not want to show my designs and run the risk of people copying them."
"So I guess you are sentenced to life on the road forever, or until someone signs you up for that big singing gig."
"Oh, I don't mind it too much. As long as the flight attendants are respectful. I hate it when they lie to you, like saying they have no more blankets. Two things I learned from all this travel. One, there are always more blankets, in case some stuck-up person in first class wants his fifth one. Two, there are always vacancies in a hotel, although you may wind up with a room overlooking the dumpster. You just stand your ground, but without attitude, and nine times out of ten they will be reasonable."
"Cool. I must say I admire your entrepreneurial spirit and your plucky outlook about having to travel for a living."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
Suddenly inspiration struck.
"Oh, wait," I interposed. "Now I remember which friend I meant before. They live out in Boca Raton, and their kids are four or five now. Do you have any age limit? Do you make clothes for children that age?"
"Four or five, oh no! This is strictly for adults. Why would you think kids that young?"
"Didn't you say you make outfits for triplets?"
"No, not triplets. Strippers!" Darn those airplane engines are noisy.
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